Tuesday, 30 September 2003

This evening I enjoyed a little rustic industry.

I’ve been making this year’s batch of sloe gin. Thanks to the long hot summer the wild plants round here have been unusually fruitful. In addition, with the clear skies at night we’ve had a couple of frosts (sloes should only be picked after the first frost of the autumn. Sunday evening after church we went down by the river here and picked sloes. I’ve never seen so many in the 13 years we’ve been here. Thanks to the abundance of fruit this year the birds have ignored this otherwise bitter food supply. So instead of scrabbling around trying to find enough berries, after 30 mins we had plenty and to spare.

After work tonight I popped into the local Tesco and grabbed 3 bottles of their cheap gin and a couple of bags of sugar (and some DVDs for Sarah to watch when she’s bored, but don’t tell her I told you ;-). After dinner I dug out the sloes from the fridge and set to work. Now we’ve got 6 bottles sat on the worktop, gently turning to various shades of pink as the alcohol extracts red pigment from the fruits skins.

In order to free up enough bottles for this batch I had to pool together one or two of the previous batches (each year has it’s own flavour and subtleties, hence several bottles on the go). And of course the mix HAD to be checked. Just to make sure it’s OK still.

Breathe easy. I can assure you it’s fine :-)

Anyway, if you fancy making your own, here’s my recipe:

You will need
2 X 70cl bottles of Gin
1 empty wine/spirits bottle of similar capacity to the gin bottles.
1lb of sugar
about 1.5lb of sloes.

Wash the sloes, removing all stalks, leaves and anything else apart from sloe berries.
Make holes in the berries. Lore has it that you should use a silver bodkin, but a stainless steel knife cut works fine. Put about 7 oz sloes and 5oz of sugar in the wine bottle. Pour gin in almost to the brim, making sure there are no trapped air bubbles. Then seal tightly. Repeat, putting sloes and sugar in one of the almost empty gin bottle, and top up from the second. Remove some of the remaining gin from the 3rd bottle and add sloes and sugar to this, topping to the brim with the gin removed earlier.

Now the patient bit. Put the bottles out of direct sunlight and invert, mixing the contents at least once per day for the next 6 weeks. The sugar will dissolve and the gin become a bright ruby red. Allow the gin to stand for 2 weeks, then decant the clear liquor, holding back the lees. If desired, a second lot of gin can be added and the run repeated, although this second run will be inferior in colour and flavour.

Set the gin aside to mature. At this stage it will still be quite rough and fiery, without the smooth fruitiness that develops later. By Christmas it will be drinkable, although it will be better by *next* Christmas (or the one after that). Keep the bottle topped up to prevent oxidation until it’s ready to drink.

A word of warning. This is the drink that the bible refers to as ‘sparkling in the glass’. It looks and tastes wonderful – it’s so smooth, warming and easy on the palate. It can also give hangovers of skull-busting proportions. I’d reckon 3 ‘doubles’ over the course of an evening should be fine. Necking half a bottle might make one a little more respectful in future.

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